RE: Now lone techwriter, startup

Subject: RE: Now lone techwriter, startup
From: "Cekis, Margaret" <Margaret -at- mediaocean -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 14 Mar 2002 15:07:03 -0500

Ellen Vanrenen [mailto:ellen -dot- vanrenen -at- clear-technology -dot- com] is a little
overwhelmed because "I am now a lone techwriter in a fast-paced start-up. We
need everything done....I could use some help over here."

I agree with the previous poster who said to slow down and take a deep
breath, and with those who said you don't have to do everything at once.

When you get an indication of which document has top priority, ask your boss
basic audience and project definition questions: Who is it for? When is it
due? How big is it expected to be? Who must approve it before it goes out?
and Who else in the company has a say or an interest in what goes into it?
The last two are very important questions. This is where the political
pitfalls are hidden.

I did a lot of contract work, and several jobs where I was not only the lone
writer, but the client company had never hired a tech writer before. I
learned to find out who had opinions about what was needed up front after I
had to totally rework a simple user's guide that marketing wanted to have
more pizzazz to help sell the product.

Once I found out who had opinions, I would either send them a memo asking
for a meeting, or go visit them individually and pick their brains about
what they expected in the manual, how they wanted it to look, and where I
could get the necessary information or access to the product. Then I'd
compile my notes and create a prospective table of contents outline for the
document and a dummy title page, and send it to all the interested parties
for review and comments, and ask them to forward it to anyone I might have

This shows everyone that you are working on it, gets them to approve or
revise the contents at the beginning, and keeps you from going down dead
ends. (It may also get forwarded to someone important that no one had
mentioned earlier.) When each major section of the document is complete,
send it out for review to your list of concerned managers, etc., with the
original or a revised TOC, so they can see where it fits in the manual or
whatever. In big organizations, I also would also attach a review cover
sheet with the doc name, due date, percent complete, date sent for review,
date comments due back, and a reviewer's signature line.

If you use something like this, file them (and the review copies if they are
accompanied by useful information or instructions to change focus or
something. It keeps a record of where you got your direction during the
process of a project. Modify and repeat as needed for subsequent projects.
After several successful projects, record your process: Initial scope
review, in-progress review procedure, final approval and signoff procedures.
Send out process document for review and signatures.

You might also want to join the STC Lone Writer's SIG at or sign up for the Lone Writer's ListServe by
sending an e-mail to owner-stclwrsig-l -at- lists -dot- stc -dot- org and in the body of the
message type: SUBSCRIBE stclwrsig-l <your e-mail address>.

Good Luck, and relax, you're going to do fine.
Margaret Cekis
Margaret -at- MediaOcean -dot- com

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